Put the Power of Positive Reinforcement to Work for You

When you think back about your personal history, which floats more readily to the top, positive experiences or negative ones?

Generally, evolution may have biased us to remember the bad experiences so as not to repeat them—such as a child touching a hot stove.

Each of our experiences stimulates our memory centers in very specific ways. There are multiple brain structures and neuronal pathways involved in memory formation and retrieval, but […] memories of emotionally charged experiences — particularly those that evoke fear — are strengthened by the activation of the amygdala and other parts of the brain that are central to emotional processing. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, since being able to recall fearful events is critical to survival. [See source.]

Nevertheless, the most formative experiences may well be the positive ones—all of the encouragement you received when you were learning to walk, for example, praise you earned when you learned to tie your shoes, or got a good grade on your homework, or won some recognition in sports. These experiences reinforced behavior positively and created positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement refers to the introduction of a desirable or pleasant stimulus after a behavior. The desirable stimulus reinforces the behavior, making it more likely that the behavior will reoccur. One of the reasons this works is that positive experiences can cause the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure, i.e., the “feel good” hormone.

Why do we forget this simple technique when we go to work?

Possibly we expect everyone at work to be an adult all of the time, i.e., unemotional and focused on achieving their targets.

Well, guess what? That same child eager for recognition when he tied his own shoe lurks beneath the surface of that suave 40-year-old in the tailored suit, and every other executive. Be careful, though, when you practice positive reinforcement—always be sincere. Most adults can readily detect inauthentic, phony, or superficial lip-service without any real feeling behind it. This you want to avoid.

There are, however, at least four species of reinforcement to consider if you are building muscle in this area: natural, token, social, and tangible. [Read more.] Natural refers to a seamless positive result that proceeds from a positive behavior such as a student who studied hard getting a good grade on a test. Token, refers to a gold star or some other symbol used to underline good performance. Social involves praise, possibly in front of co-workers, and tangible could be a cookie or some other specific reward.

How does all of this relate to finding your next executive role?

Well, for many the process of looking for a new position is fraught with negative experiences: sending hundreds of resumes and receiving no response; failing to progress after an interview; or rejection letters and other negative news from the would-be employer. These are clear downers.

Here’s how one landed executive client experienced the market before she hired The Barrett Group (TBG).

“I thought it would be a good time to look for a job, but the number of resumes I was competing with was huge! I’d see a job pop up and within two days it would have 1400 applicants. [So I got] very frustrated. My resume wasn’t getting in front of anyone. I suspect I was also running into age bias, too. After three to four months, I realized that I needed to get smarter about my job search.” [Victoria Sydorowicz, Controller, Read more.]

Picking yourself up, shaking yourself off, and refocusing on your career goals takes effort and discipline.

Having a tried-and-true career management professional at your elbow accelerates your search. Of course, focusing on roles that actually meet your needs in the first place helps lubricate the search process, too.

“I had never really stopped to consider what might be a good match for me. I always just made a square peg fit into a round hole. Marsha [her TBG Clarity Coach] did a really good job of teasing out of me what my ideal job is and helping me realize that I didn’t have to settle. That was a big, and refreshing, revelation to me! Thanks to Marsha, I went into the career consulting phase of the program with a really clear picture of what I wanted.” [Victoria Sydorowicz, Controller, Read more.]

Here’s how another TBG client experienced our support during his successful search:

Farid learned of an opportunity as CIO of an insurance company in the Midwest that seemed perfect for him. He applied. To his great surprise, he didn’t get the job.

“I thought it was a slam dunk. I had all the experience and qualifications, but I wasn’t even a finalist. So I wondered what was missing. I could have done that job with my eyes closed, yet I lost out. It was then that I considered that I had never conducted a serious job search in my career. I had come to all my jobs organically. It was time for me to refresh my approach.”

Farid realized he needed serious support, so he turned to TBG. It took some time but his diligence was rewarded with a juicy COO role.

“Having someone holding me accountable and keeping me focused was really important. Every time I hit a brick wall, Anne [his TBG Career Consultant] would have suggestions of things to do. She was encouraging and kept me sane and motivated. If not for her encouragement, my landing would never have happened.” [Farid, Chief Operating Officer, Read more.]

So consider this as you approach the executive market: everyone benefits from genuine positive reinforcement. Some people think of this as “givers gain.” And to help you remain in a positive, giving posture during the ardors of your search you may benefit from some positive reinforcement yourself.

Hiring The Barrett Group is the surest way to stay positive and accelerate your career search. But you need not take our word for it. Hundreds of client testimonials and five years of recognition by Forbes that we are one of the best in the business should be all the positive reinforcement you need to take that key step.

Give us a call.

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